Jamshed's journey to keep Islamic calligraphy alive

Jamshed's journey to keep Islamic calligraphy alive

Jamshed's journey to keep Islamic calligraphy alive

Mohammed Jamshed may not be a Goya or a Gauguin but his intensity and zeal to expl­ore the world through inner eye defies all kind of barricades and circumstances. He is an artist who wants to revive the sublime but lost world of Islamic calligraphy through paintings that soar high in ecstasy of a dimpled joy.

 Jamshed, in his early sixties, with an obsession matching that of great artist Van Gogh, finds “letters” that go on to form words bringing about an empathic communication between human beings in the lonely crowd, a source of inspiration.

The lonely artistic voyage begins and ends every day amidst skeletal houses with stretched cemented skin spattered with texture of helplessness. Waves of squalor do not affect him ; in the middle of the night when airplanes roar drowns the coughing of a neighbour, he silently and in obscurity diligently carries on with his art what he feels is his “ibadat” (prayer).

Calligraphy is considered as one of the minor arts. However, in Arabic language and especially Islamic art, calligraphy is not just mere geometry of communication but an aesthetic experience that is sublime in nature. Jamshed firmly believes in it and thus his work for the past 10 years permeates with what is called Kalima-e-Tayyaba which is one of the five pillars of Islam. The other four being: namaaz, roza, haj and zakaat.

Jamshed’s calligraphy revolves around Kalima which he explores not just through depiction of natural elements juxtaposed with inner visions but through geometric figures of alphabets of other languages. His paintings are primarily mental, artistic and spiritual dedication wherein conjuring of right images, right tone, right colour and right contrast are extremely important as technical finesse.    

The etchings are vivid and electrically charged, extolling a vague romantic world which is lush, melodious and lovely inscape surrealistic universe looking out through the prism of a world comprising totally Arabic letters in different forms.

Like most artists Jamshed is also obsessed with seas and rivers. The seas have always fascinated artists throughout ages; but the treatment has always been with the actors in narrative dominating the composition. However, Jamshed’s narration moves in etherised world with the ‘Kalima’ as key figures.

Several of his works depict this scenario again and again with sails formed out of letters connoting a “Kalima.” The journey in the sea has a dreamy sway with divinity passion glowing and blinking from afar. There is a sense of harmony and warmth with the edges of the skies catching the shades of light.

One may argue that the allusive sea paintings may be lacking in imagination, but then the sparkling calligraphy makes it up with the shimmering use of pointillist technique. Jamshed’s paintings though rich in decoration eschew sentimentality; the changing effects of light and patches of colour have a natural effect that make letter spring out alive without allowing sentiments to spill over into sentimentality.

Jamshed said: “Those who understand Arabic language and are well-versed with Quran may understand the juxtaposition of Kalima with the form and content. However, unfortunately there are very few youngsters who bother to study Arabic languages nowadays… and moreover if one looks at calligraphy even though considered as a minor art… it is appreciated by everybody.”

Talking about his interest in calligraphy, Jamshed said: “I had come to
Mumbai after majoring in commercial arts from Lucknow University where I did my Bachelor in Fine Arts… imposition of 1975 emergency snuffed my ambition to be a political cartoonist and I found myself working as a lay-out artist in the country’s most-feared weekly tabloid then--The Blitz.”

It was while working as a lay-out artist his interest in calligraphy arose and then with an obsession bordering on madness he began his study into the world of hand writing once more. The closure of the weekly magazine in late nineties left him with lots of time to perfect the art which had captured his imagination during his 25 years of working in The Blitz.

“Earlier I used to indulge in a lot of landscapes, calendar art and experimental abstraction. However, after the closure with pots of time on my hands I found the intricacies and aesthetics of calligraphy more enticing. Islamic calligraphy is a
traditional art and ironically neither the government nor any communitarian Muslim institutions and organisations which with much pomp and show splurge lakhs of rupees on hosting programmes--like Islamic quiz or qirat (recitation of the holy book from memory)--do not have a modicum of feeling towards this beautiful rare art.

“But this does not deter me. I do not have any buyers and that also does not
deter me. Till now I have made over 80 such paintings and they have been highly-appreciated… but then all I want is to keep the art alive… and my panoply of couplets is full and it will keep me busy in this long journey,” he added.

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